Cheney at Giving Up The Ghost has issued a challenge called The Friday Fright Write, and this week’s task was to write about the worst thing you can imagine happening to you. My submission is a fictionalized version of a multiple-meaning theft that could, unfortunately, trigger some painful emotions while reading. So I wanted to first post a ** warning ** for anyone who has suffered past personal abuse that you may not want to read this story.
On the Edge of What Felt Safe …
As the song goes, “Ain’t no rest for the wicked. Money don’t grow on trees.” The lyrics ran through his head as he slunk through the darkened neighborhood in search of his next free meal. The damp Mid-western air was so thick, his breath came in difficult heaves that he tried to quieten. Silence would help guarantee a successful haul.
He’d specifically chosen this area because of its remote location and older population. People with hearing aids take them out or turn them off at night, so he’d had good luck with getting in and out unnoticed. Their serene little enclave created a false sense of security, too, so keys were often under the car floor mat and wallets in the glove box. Otherwise, he’d just dig through the vehicle to see what else he could find … loose cash, CDs, or paperwork that could help him open fake credit card accounts under their names mailed to his address.
His driver was a buddy who’d had a few too many hits off the pipe earlier that night and was swerving pretty erratically, so he had him drop him off at the first street in the cul de sac. The crappy car they drove made enough noise for someone to notice them and call the cops. A lone streetlight per block left good cover for the clandestine operation to easily take place. Taking one hit of speed helped him feel brave enough to go slowly take more chances than usual.
The night began to cool when the rain started, and he was relieved to have the cover of sound when he heard the first blast of thunder. Each house he passed had at least a single-car garage that must have been in use, because few cars sat parked in driveways. The random couple he found open didn’t have much inside worth stealing, but he grabbed a bag of clothes and a pair of sunglasses from one truck and moved on down the street.
A lone car sat in the last driveway, an older SUV that looked like a true “grocery getter.” It probably belonged to some old guy who used it for hauling fishing gear. With his bum luck, the contents were probably only stupid CDs with bad music. He’d just pitch them out the window on the way back to town if they were some shit like that Mumford & Sons he’d heard on the radio or old-time George Jones. Regardless, the Jeep might hold something good.
He didn’t worry about the interior light coming on when he opened the door to get inside. A stack of kid’s drawings were in the front seat and – sure enough – a booster seat in the back. Soccer mom. Envelopes might have usable private information, and maybe there was a bill in the midst of all the papers that would have a Social Security Number on it. He grabbed the bunch, intending to go through it later.
Ashes fell off the cigarette hanging from his lips as he rifled under the seats and in the side door pockets. Grabbing what he could, his eyes rose up to visor and its grand prize – a garage door opener. A dog barked from inside, and it began to growl as the electric door started to rise. A thick-bodied black mix breed stood snarling and braced to spring at him. Lowered on its haunches in a ready stance, he could see the hair standing on the bastard’s back. He pulled the .22 from the back of his waistband, and it only made a loud pop as he took out the mongrel. Anybody who heard the shot probably just chalked it up to fireworks since it hadn’t been that long since the 4th of July, and rednecks shot off bottle rockets out here in the country year-round anyway. Maybe the steady rumbling of thunder covered or at least camouflaged the sound.
He stepped over the dead dog and quickly climbed the few steps to a door leading into a laundry room. It was dark and quiet inside except for a faint glow around the corner, probably a nightlight, and the soft background hum of a fan spinning somewhere in the distance. Perhaps it was coming from a bedroom where he was likely to find enough jewelry box gold to pawn for a couple night’s worth of real blow instead of the cheap meth they’d smoked lately. No telling who made that stuff, but it had kept him awake long enough to cause a blasting headache and really piss him off. He was irritable and wanted to get this job over with and get the hell out of here.
As he cleared the hallway, an open doorway revealed the source of the dim light and whirring noise. The master bedroom had a single occupant, a sleeping woman curled up alone in a queen-sized bed. She was sleeping soundly, apparently the white noise of air conditioning and box fan had covered the yelped warning and the blast that killed its source. A man’s heavy boots stumbling across the floor in semi-darkness was a different story.
The resident stirred in her slumber, maybe sensing a foreign presence in her midst, and her eyes fluttered open. They grew rounded upon finding a strange man looming there, mid-stride across the carpet, and she bolted from her prone position. Her half-asleep movement to the dresser, where a handgun lay hidden among the contents of her sock drawer, was thwarted by two long leaps toward the bedroom suite. He landed atop the woman before she had enough time to scramble completely to her feet, and his heavy, sweaty frame overwhelmed her. She fell back onto the mussed linens under his weight.
He saw neither what she looked like nor how she was dressed but only knew she was in the way of his goal. The volume of any screams could alert neighbors of her distress, so he stuffed one hard fist into her open mouth before a shriek could escape it. Realizing the reason for her stunted attempt to reach the drawer infuriated him more than her yelling and squirming. Tears of fear and pain sprang from her eyes with the force of his fist being shoved harder into her mouth and her head’s impact with the wooden headboard.
A snarled question was accompanied by rancid spit, as he hissed, “You were going for a gun, weren’t you?” Their faces were within inches of one another, and she saw a close-up view of several days’ razor stubble, blackheads covering his nose, and the pinpoints of his pupils. Her focus went to yellow and brown stains of what remained of his jagged tooth enamel. The stench of body odor, stale ashtray and whiskey overwhelmed her senses and stung her eyes. A drug-crazed sneer signified there was worse yet to happen.
She felt the stiffness of his crotch against her right leg and bit down on his hand in her panic. A resultant blow to the side of her head brought on a woozy state that made her only half aware of the t-shirt being ripped away from her body. A second strike would leave her eye blackened but deliver her from the full reality of his amphetamine-fueled rage. Ripped skin, bruised inner thighs, and the rape kit were proof enough.
The 911 call she placed and ambulance ride were nebulous as well. The following few weeks were even a blur, but her husband managed to clean up all other physical evidence of the attack in an attempt to bring things back to normal in their home. He’d glossed things over with their son as to why Mom acted differently than she used to, cried so often and would no longer sleep without the lights on in the room. Not only just an iPad and her jewelry box but happy times were also gone from their house.
It’s hard to imagine the pawning of someone’s property being precious enough to drive a person such extreme depravity. A dark street and an open door provide easy opportunities to take what rightfully belongs to someone else, though. Addiction can also fog an otherwise once potentially productive mind. “Ain’t no rest for the wicked. Money don’t grow on trees.” Cage the Elephant could have written those lines just for him.